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High-fat diets may lead to breast cancer.


A study of 250 breast cancer patients in a northwestern Italian province has produced evidence that a high-fat diet can lead to an increased risk of breast cancer. Specifically, saturated fats and animal proteins seem to be the main culprits.

The study, conducted by a New York University Medical Center epidemiologist working with Italian and French researchers, compared the diets of breast cancer patients in the Italian province of Vercelli with those of nearly 500 healthy women of about the same age. Paolo Toniolo, the epidemiologist, notes that Vercelli, an area made up mostly of factory workers and farmers, was "characterized by a moderately high incidence of breast cancer" when he conducted his study in 1983 and 1984. Although the healthy group registered no significant difference in carbohydrate and vegetable fat consumption, it consumed considerably fewer amounts of fat and protein than the breast cancer group. The women with breast cancer had eaten greater amounts of meat and dairy products, especially milk, high-fat cheese and butter. They also had consumed moderately higher amounts of calories than the control group--calories that came from saturated fat and animal proteins.

The study also discovered that consumption of such fare as fish, eggs, bread, pasta, olive oil, vegetables and fruit had no real relationship to breast cancer. Toniolo concludes that "a reduction of in [consumption of] total fat to less than 30 percent, of saturated fat to less than 10 percent and animal proteins to less than 6 percent of food intake may lead to a substantial reduction in the incidence of breast cancer in population subgroups with high intake of saturated fats and animal proteins." Although cancer prevention specialists consider the numbers in the study to be relatively small compared with other population studies, they add that the Italian study has produced more conclusive results, mainly because they consider the questionnaire used to obtain the nutritional information to be relatively sound. (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, February 15, 1989; 81:278-286.)
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Publication:Medical Update
Date:May 1, 1989
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